By Joseph Willits
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Both Douglas Carswell and Zac Goldsmith condemned Government proposals yesterday for the recall of MPs for wrongdoing when they appeared before the Commons's political and constitutional reform committee. The plans would mean that if over 10% of constituents signed a petition calling for a by-election, an MP could be recalled providing they had spent less than twelve months in prison or if the Commons' disciplinary committee recommends that a petition takes place.
However, a committee of MPs would be given the power to define what constitutes a recall. Goldsmith suggested that this could lead to unfair outcomes, given that other MPs were making the decision to recall another member:
"You could be the world's worst ever MP without breaking a single thing in the (MPs) code (of conduct) because it relates to financial things. Or vice-versa, you could by accident break one of those codes – not registering a bottle of wine given to you by a friendly constituent for example – which could be a genuine error. But that might be an excuse for the committee to qualify you for recall because you might be a unpleasant character and not popular in the House."
Carswell likened the proposals to something that Sir Humphrey would have come up with. MPs he said, would not be accountable to the people, but rather to other MPs:
"Sir Humphrey Appleby came up with a system that Sir Humphrey Appleby would perhaps like, which is to keep the people at bay and ministers seem to have gone along with it … I think it is deeply and deliberately flawed. Instead of doing what recall should do, which is make all of us more outwardly accountable to the people, I think it will make us inwardly accountable to Westminster grandees."
After the 2009 MPs expenses scandal, there was cross-party consensus in some form to introduce recall proposals. In the manifestos of each of the three main parties, it was outlined. Both Carswell and Goldsmith accused the Government of changing their position since being in opposition. The proposals initial "accountable" objectives had been lost, Carswell said:
"The true nature of recall, to make us outwardly accountable, was lost sight of. Once in government what then happened there was this fear that somehow if you go too far down this road you would have vexatious attempts at unseating you. That meant the confusion and the misunderstanding that perhaps started off accidentally was never cleared up."
The Government had now reached a point where it was fearful of democracy, said Goldsmith, and the attractiveness of the proposals during the General Election had vanished:
"When you are fighting an election campaign, it is an attractive thing to offer decentralisation, localism and democracy. But when it comes to the crunch most governments – and ours unfortunately falls into this category – reach a point where they fear the impact of democracy."